deadline surfing

A colleague from a related research institute just expressed the pressure we all experience when facing EU proposal deadlines:
“Sorry, can we reschedule to later? I am currently deadline surfing for the call deadline tomorrow”.

Deadline surfing, of course, means: To have around 20 man-days of work build up behind you, and 5 workdays in front of you. While you wade through the doable tasks in front of you, more work piles up behind you faster and faster, pushing you towards the deadline. Then, the wave breaks, either you surf straight out of it (unbelievable) or you crash and fall into the whitewater (which experienced deadline surfers call the “stuck inside a washing machine mayhem”). The deadline arrives, washes every crashed surfer on shore, while the experienced riders swim out to catch the next set. Once the debris is washed from the beach, the wildlife of scientific work continues.

Let me illustrate the process:
sources, cc-by

In the graph, we compare two typical people being approached by a deadline which they are going to surf. Orang is the prepared and experienced surfer: when he sees the work coming, he gets on top of it early and then rides it at the bottom of the curve, gaining momentum and keeping the work well behind him. Finally, he elegantly finishes before the deadline and turns his board around, before the whitewater of accusations and last-minute panic crushes him. Not so the blue surfer. He waits a bit too long at the beginning, is taken by work to fast which tips him over. Unable to stay in front of the work, he ends up in the whitewater of accusations and last-minute panic.

Further illustrations:

A knowledge worker riding the perfect deadline, excellent sports:
(c) dude crush, flickr

Waited to long to start working, now trying to get away from the deadline, clearly visible for everyone still working (not a good exit, you should dive underwater so that they don’t notice your wipeout):
(c) vaguely artistic

Even a small deadline can trip you (the wave is about the size of a local gov funding contract, or a NOE):
(c) coast guard bm

A team of two knowledge workers stuck right on the deadline. Bob, the lower one is tripped by the tasks slipping away under him, David, the upper, is crashing over him because he depended on Bob’s input for the cost calculation:
(c) localsurfer

A sole knowledge project manager writing the final deliverable for a 15mio EUR IP project that is under close surveillance by the PO already, the double tripping wave means that half the project members invested their money into stocks and expensive mediterrian “research visits” which makes it impossible to meet cost statements (and all accounts receivable):
(c) soulsurfer3 on flickr

I conclude:
“I love deadlines, I love the sound they make when they swoosh by”.
Douglas Adams

p.s.: this is of course related to the deadline of IST calls tomorrow.

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